The role of AI in energy consumption

From optimizing energy efficiency to revolutionizing waste management, AI's capabilities hold the promise of creating a sustainable future for generations to come. But AI has a flipside too.

As it continues to gain prominence in information technology and other verticals, experts are raising concerns about its carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

The training and operation of complex AI models necessitate data centers with powerful hardware that often runs non-stop, contributing to carbon emissions and placing pressure on electricity grids.

Therefore, tracking the environmental impact of AI is essential in ensuring its responsible and beneficial integration into our world.

How can we achieve this?


Tracking the sustainability impact of AI

Firstly, comprehensive data collection is vital, encompassing the entire lifecycle of AI systems, from resource extraction and manufacturing to usage and disposal. Metrics should cover energy consumption, carbon emissions, and other environmental costs and factors.

Secondly, standardized assessment frameworks need to be developed, allowing for consistent measurement and comparison of AI's sustainability across different projects and industries. Collaborative efforts involving governments and policy makers, academia, and industries can facilitate the creation of such frameworks.

Thirdly, transparency in AI development and deployment is crucial; organizations should disclose their AI systems' environmental impacts and efforts taken to mitigate them with sustainable development goals.

Lastly, ongoing monitoring and analysis will help identify areas for improvement and drive innovation in sustainable AI technologies. By combining these strategies, we can proactively monitor and mitigate the environmental footprint of AI, fostering a future where technology and sustainability coexist harmoniously.


How can ΑΙ enable a sustainable future?

With sustainability emerging as a significant factor both for investors and users, companies are beginning to explore new use cases to enable a sustainable future across various domains.

For example, AI tools can help contribute to resolving the climate crisis by:

  • Analyzing patterns and large-scale data to identify areas where energy is being wasted and suggesting improvements
  • Improving the efficiency and output of renewable energy sources
  • Using smart grids to balance energy supply and demand more efficiently, reduce grid losses, and integrate renewable sources seamlessly into the existing energy infrastructure
  • Processing and analyzing data to improve climate models and forecasting predictions
  • Aiding the monitoring and managing of natural ecosystems by identifying deforestation, monitoring wildlife populations, and tracking illegal fishing activities
  • Identifying recyclable materials and minimizing contamination, thus improving waste sorting and recycling processes
  • Monitoring air and water quality, detecting pollutants, and providing early warnings for environmental hazards
  • Predicting and responding to natural disasters more effectively, reducing their impact on communities and the environment
  • Designing and optimizing carbon capture technologies, contributing to efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions

Will all this work?

According to recent research by PwC UK, using AI to better manage the environment could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4%, boost global GDP by up to $5 trillion USD, and create up to 38.2 million new jobs across the global economy by 2030, offering more skilled occupations.


Regulations: Keeping AI in check

During a hearing on artificial intelligence in May 2023, Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI, told US senators: "regulation of AI is essential." And with AI being front and center in the global conversation, it looks like a good time to start thinking about how risky it is and what needs to be restricted.

To ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology, China already has AI regulations in place and the European Union is passing its first broad AI Act after more than two years of debate. The proposed legislation focuses primarily on strengthening rules around data quality, transparency, human oversight, and accountability.

It also aims to address ethical questions and implementation challenges in various sectors ranging from healthcare and education to finance and energy. It also includes a ban on the use of AI technology in biometric surveillance and for generative AI systems like ChatGPT to disclose AI-generated content.

As for the United States, the regulation of AI is still in its early stages, although there is a number of existing laws and regulations that touch upon certain aspects of AI, such as privacy, security, and anti-discrimination.


Working towards a greener future

Artificial intelligence, with its capacity to process and analyze vast amounts of data, presents an unprecedented opportunity to create a sustainable future.

From optimizing resource management and enabling the clean energy revolution to revolutionizing waste management and enhancing conservation efforts, AI's potential is vast and transformative.

However, it's essential to approach its deployment responsibly, addressing ethical concerns and potential biases to ensure that the benefits of AI are shared equitably across societies. By harnessing AI's capabilities, we can pave the way for a future in which technology and sustainability coexist harmoniously, safeguarding planet Earth for generations to come.

To learn more about AI and machine learning, visit the Sitecore Knowledge Center.